Farmers Alex and Wendy Sanger from Angus are passionate about their beef enterprise. Their efficient management of the commercial herd of Rosemount Aberdeen Angus herd and the quality of the cattle led to the farm being a finalist in the prestigious title of Scotch Beef Farm of the Year 2015, supported and organised by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AgriScot.
The Sangers, who farm at Pettycur Farm, are no strangers to winning awards as the herd took the Bank of Scotland Aberdeen Angus Suckler Herd of the Year Award in 2011. In the same year, a cow Rosemount Justine Erica lifted the Supreme Champion for Whittaker Farms & Co at the Royal Highland Show and Great Yorkshire Show.
Mr Sanger said: "It is an honour to have been nominated for the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year award and we are delighted that we were one of the finalists. We feel lucky that we enjoy what we do, love the Aberdeen Angus breed and the breeders within it."
Prettycur runs to 400 acres in one block, while the 125 acre Waterside Farm on the other side of the River Esk in Aberdeenshire was purchased 14 years ago. A further 120 acres is contract-farmed and 100 acres of seasonal lets taken for growing vegetables and grass.
The main enterprise is 300 acres of arable land which is mostly down to spring malting barley. However, without the cattle to improve the soil structure and fertility, yields would be significantly lower.
Mr Sanger believes Angus are the easy-care breed of the cattle world and they have to be at Prettycur, with just himself and Wendy to calve over 200 head. He employs one other member of staff who helps on the arable and vegetable side and with the feeding.
"I am currently junior vice president of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society and chairman to the organising committee for the World Forum in 2017,” said Mr Sanger. “I am also chairman of the local grain co-op Angus Cereals, so my days on the farm are limited - I need cows which calve easily and rear their calves well with little or no intervention."
The herd is split, in order to spread the workload, with 55 calving in November/December and the remainder in April/May. The spring calvers are mainly out-wintered on the sandy soils on the farms near the coast, and, weather permitting, are calved outside. Heifers are all calved before they are two years old and with a little care are expected to continue to grow while feeding their first calf.
"They are not pushed too hard but, while our cows are not the biggest, they are very milky and the calves get off to a good start," explained Mr Sanger.
“The calves have access to creep feeding before coming in for the winter onto a diet of straw and silage and are ready for the bull at 13 months when they average between 400-420kg. Once they are in calve they continue to grow on some of the best grass plus feedblocks, but Mr Sanger insists that none of his animals get special treatment, he said: "They have to be working cows, this is a very commercial enterprise."
Unusually he artificially inseminates over 100 cows and heifers per year with a first service rate of over 70% thanks in part to use of Fabdec heat detection collars. He still uses semen from the 23,000gns Chapelton Eventer and from Blelack Prince Consort, who are both deceased but Mr Sanger believes still have some of the best genetics in the breed, leaving excellent mothers with ample milk and great temperament.
All the cattle are electronically tagged and calves are DNA sampled and, while he has already invested a six figure sum in housing, his next stage is to look at a permanent handling system which will allow him to streamline routine tasks such as weighing, blood sampling or vaccinating. Data can then be captured and downloaded to the farms computer records.
Recently Mr Sanger visited Mexico for the World Angus Secretariat and he said that, despite EID and DNA testing, the UK is still very far behind other countries in terms of genomics.
A few bulls are sold privately off farm, while Mr Sanger established an overseas market for surplus heifers, with consignments going to Estonia, Romania and France in the past, however the recent strength of the pound has reduced the opportunity for export.
He has tried bull beef in the past, however, in consultation with Scotbeef, who purchase the majority of his cattle, he has reverted to finishing steers. They mainly grade R4L or R4H at 350kg average and are finished between 17 and 20 months of age. The premium for Aberdeen Angus beef combined with the low cost of production makes this a profitable enterprise. The steers are mainly finished on a ration of silage, dark grains, straw and home-grown barley.